I thought I would discuss this Atlantic article in the context of political love languages, but there are so many other problems with Conor Friedersdorf’s Take the Shutdown Skeptics Seriously that I’m just going to get into it as a political discussion.

Friedersdorf argues several points:

  • That the discussion isn’t as clear-cut as pro-human and pro-economy. However, he goes on to argue the pro-economy stance much of the way through.
  • That because we don’t know how long a solution will take, or if we will reach a solution, “Americans should carefully consider the potential costs of prolonged shutdowns lest they cause more deaths or harm to the vulnerable than they spare.”
  • That supply chain interruptions and a prolonged depression are equally great risks to life and not to be discounted.
  • That crashed healthcare and education systems are also hard to recover.

He cites Michael Klare’s warning in The Nation that “Even where supply chains remain intact, many poor countries lack the funds to pay for imported food,” he explained. “This has long been a problem for the least-developed countries, which often depend on international food aid” This is not new. Starvation and poor access  to food has always been a hazard because of (among other things) how international trade and exploitation are arranged now and have been since the admitted colonial times. (These places are still colonies – of multinationals now, not other countries, but still.) When we talk about developing/developed countries, there’s often the assumption of dependence on foreign assistance. The problem here is that there are so many internal and external forces at play that keep such countries in the ’not developed’ column. Using this as an excuse not to work on those issues is just a continuance of the problem.

And note the absence of discussion of the plague of locusts in Africa – no global locust watch dashboards but the problem still exists, and people will starve because of it.

Note, too, that there’s currently enough food gin the US supply chain if we’re processing it carefully and not sending it to China. The web of trade can’t be brought back but government stimulus – paying a fair wage for fair work harvesting the food that’s rotting on the vine right now and planting for the next season will feed more people. But again, it seems to be a matter in American politics and the US media that dividing people works in some folks’ favour, and bringing people together to support the effort and each other runs counter to that. This might be a dream that free people will do manual labor in the absence of other labor to do, or in the interest of the country not going underfed in a land of plenty.

The part of the article that really got my blood boiling is the assertion that this crashing economy won’t leave the healthcare systems standing, sourced to Esther O’Reilly’s Arc Digital article Economic Costs Are Human Costs. In the West, this is mostly a problem in the US where a large portion of the economy rests on a fragile but very lucrative system of people paying large sums of money to insurance companies on the slim chance those companies will take care of them in the event of catastrophe. Those companies have a bottom line dependent on not covering care in the event of catastrophe. This is the big hole in how the US economy works that Obama and many before him were trying to fix and now we’re seeing how that affects the rest of society. In the context of the pandemic, we find that we had an opportunity to meet the disaster head on by working with manufacturers to build up the stockpiles of ventilators and PPE that were going to be necessary. See above about the ease of dividing people rather than bringing together to meet the challenge.

Healthcare systems running out of cash on hand is one of the symptoms of poorly run healthcare (and a poorly run country, in my opinion) – or healthcare run on a for-profit basis. We can fight the virus and put the economy on hold if the money we’re borrowing to shore up the economy goes into fighting the disaster and to the people it needs to help. It’s the same with giving tax breaks at the top rather than minimum wage increases at the bottom. That wage increase gets plugged right back into the economy. But a few more people are fed first.

Stimulus works a lot better when it’s effectively directed as well. Hospitals (nursing homes, prisons, food processing plants), three months into this disaster, should have all the PPE they need. There were hundreds of ways to reconfigure our manufacturing base temporarily to address the situation in testing as well as equipment. We (the executive branch of the US government) simply didn’t and made excuses for not doing so. And continues to. Gracious, DJT. You can’t blame the system for that – you can, but we saw disaster on the horizon and decided not to prepare and identified who we’d sacrifice and which corporations would reap the benefit of stimulus packages that should have supported humans in need.

A final point in the article that made me scratch my head was this: ‘The shuttering of auto manufacturing plants led to an 85 percent increase in opioid overdose deaths in the surrounding counties over seven years, according to a recent study.’ (The referenced article by Heather Mac Donald in The Spectator – https://spectator.us/consider-costs-coronavirus/ doesn’t cite a source for this statistic.) Friedersdorf is trying to argue about the social costs of a depression should this shutdown last too long. There’s a leap of logic here that I can’t fathom. Opioid deaths are also associated with the companies pushing the opioids, other healthcare issues associated with manufacturing and the holes in our healthcare system and the generally accepted disposability of workers in general in the US. Topic for another blog

And finally, I found this related sentiment on Facebook, but am having a time sourcing the original tweet:

medically-informed

We absolutely can do much better.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wild_Things_(EP)
Recorded 25-27 May 1981
Released: 25 September 1981
Lineup: Siouxsie Sioux, Budgie
Producer: Mike Hedges
Track list:
  1. Mad Eyed Screamer
  2. So Unreal
  3. But Not Them
  4. Wild Thing
  5. Thumb
Recorded just before Juju was released, and released later the same year, Wild Things comprised five songs across two 7” singles, at least one of which (But Not Them) was worked up during the Juju sessions. The idea behind The Creatures was that the ideas worked well as just percussion and voice.
Mad Eyed Screamer seems an appropriate soundtrack fo these times. It seems to describe sideshow preacher or world-bedraggled, drug addled street person. The title phrase also aptly describes this years demonstrators.
So Unreal points at the same dynamics, but from the perspective of having known the titular screamer before? I wish I could feel the way that you feel? No it’s not that, it’s that the person being addressed has gone the way of normalcy. All the traits you had have all gone away / Get up and wash at the right time of day. It might be a guise, but it it’s a desirable one. Get out of the scene and get into the so-called real world?
But Not Them is a classic Siouxsie lyric pointing to a murder (or more) that has occurred. Dead lumps of meat / Melt in this heat.
The cover of the Chip Taylor classic Wild Thing, which gives the EP its title (suggested by Steve Severin as the kind of thing the creatures in Where The Wild Things Are would have danced to), is twisted to one side. A classic declaration of love? No. Wild Thing, I think I hate you / But I want to know for sure / Come and hit me hard / I hate you.
Finally, there’s Thumb, which uses recordings of traffic at the opening and closing for a backing, and describes life mostly from the point of view of a hitchhiker:
One for the road, jump inside little girl take a ride by my side / No end to the ride with this stranger tonight.
The drum/voice nature of the Creatures’ work offers a starkness to Siouxsie’s lyrical approach to the world that is often subsumed in the Banshees’ work. These songs were remastered and included in the 1997 compilation A Bestiary of the Creatures.
Next up: A Kiss in the Dreamhouse

 

Released: June, 1981
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Spellbound
Into the Light
Arabian Knights
Halloween
Monitor

Side 2:
Night Shift
Sin In My Heart
Head Cut
Voodoo Dolly

Released just 10 months after Kaleidoscope, Nigel Gray is still at the helm.
Juju was preceded by the Spellbound single in May. Arabian Knights was released as a single in July.

After the tour for Kaleidoscope, this is the first album by this incarnation of the Banshees as a tested unit. Musically it’s their most cohesive set yet. The songs are individually different while each obviously contributes to a whole vision. Interestingly the album seems built around Budgie’s percussion and McGeoch’s guitar. Severin’s bass tends to be really low in the mix. (This may be a by-product of listening to the Spotify recording on earbuds, as well.)

And as I delve into the lyrics, which never really sunk in, the repeated themes of death and murder and violent sex are more surprising than I expected them to be. I listened to this album repeatedly in my youth, but never took that dive into what Siouxsie was actually singing about.

Musically, it’s anchored by a continuously maintained eastern atmosphere. This is more obvious on side one, especially on Arabian Knights, but each song feeds on that feeling. The chord changes that anchor Into The Light are another example. Arabian Knights features a minor key thing that feels like it’s being played from under water. I can’t identify what (I think) McGeoch is doing there. The finger cymbals also contribute.

Album opener, Spellbound, which was always one of my favourites, is a pop masterpiece on the one hand, but a horror show on the other. It’s similar in theme to previous work that explored the madness inherent in the family structure. Earlier, Siouxsie might have spun it on the axis of the child, but here she uses the line ‘And when your elders forget to say their prayers / take them by the legs, and throw them down the stairs’ as a counterpoint to the chorus’s ‘Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance / we are entranced.’ On the one hand, it’s revenge (possibly), but balanced by the insanity of childhood.

Halloween, which made onto many of my goth era’s mix tapes, wouldn’t have been out of place on any of the first three albums, but again, McGeoch’s guitar work separates it especially from the first lineup of the band. The toms and vibraslap that anchor the chorus are especially infectious.

Side one closes with Monitor, which I’ve always found to be amongst the strangest of the band’s songs. Musically it’s got this driving rhythm that doesn’t really resemble anything else in the post-punk or goth canon. At five and half minutes, it’s still beat in length by Night Shift and Voodoo Dolly on side 2. There’s something sweet in the fact that they took the time to give the songs the room they need to breathe and express what each one needs to.

Into The Light probably has lyrical depths I’m not plumbing but the song balances on repetitions of the rhymes light, white, sight, night, right. The rhythms pull the listener in as if through an aural spinning spiral. This is similar to the repeating motifs in Voodoo Dolly at the end of the album.

Arabian Nights combines images of oil spills, harems, and the repetition of I heard a rumour / what have you done to her. I’m not sure whether the music triumphs over the lyrics or the repetition is the point. Halloween pulls us again into the arena where the adult addresses the child who was:
The carefree days are distant now /I wear my memories like a shroud
I try to speak, but words collapse / Echoing, echoing “Trick or treat”

Monitor plays with the imagery of violence, possibly of a snuff film, pulling us into its horror:
And we shook with excitement / Then the victim stared up
Looked strangely at the screen / As if her pain was our fault.
Closing out side one with this kind of indictment, there was nothing left to do but flip it over and hear what came next.

Night Shift starts with those slow eastern chords and when Siouxsie enters, it’s in the style of a nursery rhyme. That she’s singing of someone visiting a morgue to commit acts of necrophilia (My night shift sisters / with your nightly visitor), well, we’re in the realm of the gothic after all. Musically, it’s crazy noise wrapped around Siouxsie’s disturbingly restrained vocals.

Sin In My Heart opens with finger-picked rhythms punctuated once with the sound of breaking glass. The minimal lyrics, again about sex, are mostly a placeholder for Budgie to wrap his rolling beats around.

Head Cut. Yeah. I want to take this severed head back to my house and keep it to make up and attract flies. And cook? Possibly. And astoundingly danceable all the same.

And the whole circus closes with mini-epic Voodoo Dolly. The singer addresses someone under the thrall of someone or something (She’s such an ugly little dolly / and she’s making you look very silly…you get paralyzed with her fear). The story part of the song evolves into a crazy repetition of the words listen, listen, listen, to your fear. Again, that hypnotic repetition draws you in. It’s an appropriate way to close the album.

While I’ve got great love for the first three albums (and, really, for most of the catalogue), those are 3 or 3 1/2 star albums. I give Juju five stars.

Next up: Wild Things!

In response to my last post on the COVID-19 crisis, a friend responded with two points which I may be about to misrepresent. First, that the recession caused by ‘rich old-world leaders’ to save themselves and their cohort is artificially generated. Second, that AIDS and COVID-19 deaths in the west are a small fraction of the deaths by suicide and tuberculosis.

I disagree that the recession is an artificially generated result of keeping the rich alive. It’s more a by-product of the mishandling of the crisis. Had measures been taken in the US and the non-Italy parts of Europe to identify and isolate victims, and to ramp up the production of PPE for hospital staff, we wouldn’t have nearly so severe a crisis in terms of hospital space and in terms of the dangers hospital staff are (still!) working under.

Also: New Yorker: What Lessons Does the AIDS Crisis Offer for the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Part of the difference between the crisis in the west and the ongoing disaster of TB and AIDS elsewhere is the racism associated with most of the world’s AIDS and TB cases – these aren’t white people or first world people. Part of it is that hospital systems in the west are being overrun by COVID-19 cases and they came up very quickly, as I noted in the previous entry. We’ve hit the number of COVID-19 cases in three months in the US that AIDS took 20 years to hit.

Oh, here’s a difference: It’s very very easy to catch COVID-19. For consenting adults, AIDS is difficult to catch. Certain precautions were worked out very early on that if followed make it very difficult to catch or transmit HIV. Condoms and clean needles do the trick most of the time. Yes, I’m aware of the failure rates. That’s not the point I’m making. (In places where ‘have sex with a virgin’ is the advice given to people with AIDS, then you have a different scenario. Note the ‘consenting adults’ wording above.)

What is the point I’m making here? Ten HIV+ people who have casual contact with people in daily life over the course of a week will not transmit HIV to any of them (the scaremongering of the time notwithstanding). Ten COVID-19 carriers who have casual contact with people over the course of a week may transmit it to a hundred. It’s very easy to catch and very difficult to treat. It’s not necessarily about the numbers who will die of COVID-19. We don’t know what recovery looks like. Or reinfection. Or what a second or third wave will do to an already stressed population and medical infrastructure.

The two diseases come up together partly because the US government’s mishandling of the AIDS crisis in the 80s is writ very large in their mishandling of the current crisis. Part of it has to do with honesty and candor. Part of the issue today has to do with sheer greed.

A week or so ago, Lawrence O’Donnell on The Last Word made reference to the increasing size of the obituaries sections of the Boston Globe and papers in New Orleans (transcript April 20, 2020). I was on a walk listening and had this overwhelming memory of the Bay Area Reporter in the 80s. The Reporter was a free gay weekly newspaper that I picked up most weeks. I moved to San Francisco in 1985 and spent a fair amount of time in the Castro District. Even though I didn’t know the people in BAR’s obituaries pages, I read them all the time. At the time gay men didn’t much die of old age. The cohort that made up those pages weren’t that much older than I was, though I didn’t realize then how close 35 or 40 was to 20 or 25. I almost burst into tears on the street with that memory.

Just as we didn’t know in 1987 or ‘88 how large the NAMES Project quilt would grow to be, we don’t know how many lives this pandemic will cost. But the outlook is far more daunting than it should have been. Enough people are talking about the lack of leadership in this regard that I don’t need to add to the sound and the fury today. At the moment, however we’re at 2.9 million confirmed cases worldwide and 940,000 in the US, where the curve does not seem to be flattening.

Released: August, 1980
Lineup: Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums)

Tracklist:
Side 1:
Happy House
Tenant
Trophy
Hybrid
Clockface
Lunar Camel

Side 2:
Christine
Desert Kisses
Red Light
Paradise Place
Skin

Recorded in 1980 with Nigel Gray, who produced the first two Police albums, and would shortly go on to produce the third, Kaleidoscope is a nearly perfect pop album. It’s more interesting and more diverse, and has a more mature sound than that heard on the first two albums. The two singles from the album, side openers Happy House and Christine were released in March and May. Musically the sound is tight and clean with a greater focus on dynamics than on grabbing the listener by the collar. And it doesn’t sound like anything else from the period, either.

A lot of this is down to the skills of guitarist John McGeoch. There are some musicians who might point to four albums over the course of an entire career and say, ‘Yeah, those were real high points. I got what I was after.’ McGeoch recorded four such in 1980. He left Magazine after recording their third, The Correct Use of Soap; He also provided most of the guitar on Generation X’s Kiss Me Deadly, and Visage’s debut (alongside Magazine colleague Dave Formula and Midge Ure and Billy Currie who would go on to form Ultravox) before Kaleidoscope.

New drummer Budgie, who had taken over for Kenny Morris for the Join Hands tour, stayed with the Banshees until they broke up in 1996. Previously he’d played with Liverpool bands the Spitfire Boys (with Paul Rutherford, later of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and Pete Wylie, later of the Mighty Wah), Big In Japan (with Bill Drummond, later of The KLF, Holly Johnson, later of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds), and played on the Slits’ debut album Cut (including the single Typical Girls).

I bring all this history in to suggest that the new additions to the lineup (who would also record the next two albums, before changing guitarists twice more) brought a certain experience and firepower, and the results show.

Side 1 is smoother listening than side 2, and there seems to have been a real effort at a thematic organization with the music speaking directly to the lyrical content.

Some songs, such as Lunar Camel and Red Light retain the synth/drum machine arrangements of the original demos and seem too sparse. I think this adds to the variety of the album’s color (as hinted in the title).

Happy House, which always felt to me like a report from inside an asylum, describes the differences between the public personas of nuclear family members and the insanity behind closed doors. This might still be a report from inside the asylum.

Tenant is a thematically logical extension of Happy House wherein the subject is trapped inside. ‘we crawl into corners — ignore any callers… Still they cling to the walls and knock on our doors… But they have eyes at the keyholes and ears at the walls.
The madness inherent in the nuclear family envelopes any who find no means of escape.

Trophy is about those mementos of a successful youth which we hang, but no longer live up to.

Hybrid is my favourite track on side one. While musically more complex than most of the songs on the album (the exception being Paradise Place, my favourite track on side 2 and for the same reason), it’s lyrically really obscure in a way the other songs aren’t. I like the tone poetry of it. The more I read the words, the more it seems to reflect a relationship between two people who were friends but aren’t anymore due to those things that break people up, but are hard to explain…

When you walked through the door / Marked “enter if you dare”
Reasoned with a friend marked “do not bend” / Bit on that finger marked “handle with care”

It’s more emotionally complex than I expected, even though I’ve been listening to this album for a long time.

The wordless Clockface and Lunar Camel, which seems to be about just what the title says, but I’m not sure. round out side one.

https://youtu.be/uktcCvhRGXA

The single Christine, about a woman with (what was then called) multiple personality disorder, opens side two. Danceable and strange, it flows into the rest of the album, but is somewhat apart from it thematically. Desert Kisses has this gorgeous layered feel, in which the guitar effects and bass provide an almost psychedelic backdrop for Sioux’s lyrics of (possibly) ship wreck and sun stroked hallucination. Red Light pulls us back into the present and the modern with the vocals played only against synths, drum machines, and samples of a camera taking photos. This is appropriate to lyrics about a pornographic photo shoot. There’s a certain psychedelia to Paradise Place as well as we hear disjointed lyrics describing, a plastic surgeon’s practice (You can hide your genetics under drastic cosmetics). The original LP closed with the double-time percussion of Skin, which describes wearing fur and leather with a certain ambivalence (cover me with skin / accuse me of sin). It’s an odd closer, but fits nicely, especially with the two songs that precede it.

Next up: Juju